The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning Retreats That Get Results: PART 1

Purposeful strategic planning is critical to the success of any organization. As a leader, the most important activity of your position it so set and achieve your organization’s annual strategic plan.

This three-part series is designed to give you a step-by-step framework for planning, executing and debriefing your strategic planning retreat to ensure maximum results.

Part I: What To Do Before Your Annual Retreat

First, we begin by outlining the key things you need to do before your retreat, so you can get your team onboard and create a powerful strategic plan.

According to Insights 2020 research, organizations that “over-perform” in terms of revenue growth link everything that they do to a clearly defined purpose. When your team members share a powerful purpose, they become more collaborative and creative. This will help you stand out from your competitors, reach your goals and drive revenue.

One of the best opportunities to align your team around a shared purpose is during your annual strategic planning retreat. Giving your teams time to step away from their day-to-day routines allows them to focus on the big picture and how they contribute to the overall purpose and mission of the organization.

Some leaders are skeptical about the strategic planning process, considering it a waste of time or boring at the very least. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you create a strategic planning process that centers around the unique needs of your organization and is structured so that all team members participate in the construction of the plan, it can produce exceptional results.

Here are seven things to do before your retreat to put your organization on the path to success:

1. Decide if you want to create a team strategic plan

As a leader, you have two options for creating a strategic plan:

      1. Create one yourself
      2. Develop one as a team

Creating a plan yourself may be appropriate during crisis or turnaround situations. However, in most cases the more powerful approach is to develop a plan with your team – harnessing their passion, input, knowledge, and power.

Developing a plan is an engaging team process. Creating a strategic plan that aligns organizational and individual purpose is extremely powerful. It gets everyone into alignment and gets them inspired about achieving shared goals.

2. Conduct market and team research

To make it to the finish line, you must know where you’re starting from. Conduct research before your strategic planning retreat to understand what’s going in your industry, with your customers, and in your company.

For example, you can:

  • Determine if your organization is on purpose or off course.
  • Collect market data on what your customers are thinking and what they want.
  • Research what external factors are impacting your market.
  • Conduct an employee audit or survey to gain an even better understanding of your organization’s culture and morale.
  • Perform financial forecasting and look at the implications of different options.
  • Identify potential growth opportunities.

3. Pick a date

The best time for a strategic planning retreat differs for every organization. Plan your retreat during a slow period, when sending your leadership team out of the office will have the least impact on your operations. Pick a date that gives your team time to ramp up for the next cycle or season. Although the summer months tend to be slower, they may not be the best time for a retreat if much of your staff is on vacation.

Many organizations try to cram their retreat into two days. While doing it in two days is better than not doing it at all, in many cases, this tight timeframe won’t always give your team room to think creatively. Try to get away for several days and incorporate some relaxing and team building activities into the agenda. This allows your team to build relationships with one another, as well as be more productive and creative during your planning sessions.

4. Determine whom to invite

Invite a cross-section of your organization – from veterans to rookies – to your strategic planning retreat. Include people from different parts of the organization, especially those who interact with customers.

For example, you can consider inviting:

  • The core people you need to execute your strategic plan
  • Senior executives
  • Board members and/or advisors
  • Key customers who can share their experiences
  • New team members, as the retreat will get them up to speed quickly and allow them to develop rapport with their colleagues
  • 1-2 potential future leaders who could gain valuable experience at the retreat

Try to limit the group to 15 people. Going beyond this number can hinder the free-flow of ideas.

5. Pick a location

It’s vital to get out of the office – and away from distractions – during your strategic planning retreat. Picking a scenic environment with unique activities will make your retreat memorable and boost team spirit. It’s also a reward for asking your team to leave their homes for an extended period.

Make sure your venue has good catering and meeting facilities. But don’t pick a venue that is too formal, as a stuffy setting will reduce collaboration and participation.

6. Plan your agenda

Create an agenda and share it with your team at least one week in advance. This gives them time to pull together information before the retreat and prepare for the various activities. Your agenda should be somewhat flexible in terms of topics and timelines. Don’t try to cram in too many topics, as you likely won’t get through everything.

Here are some key topics that will help you build an on-purpose strategic plan:

  • WHY: Develop or reaffirm your core philosophy, or “why” you exist. What is your mission? What are your core values?
  • WHAT: Discuss “what” your organization’s goals are for the coming year.
  • HOW: Plan “how” you will executive your strategic plan. What are your timelines? Who will be responsible for what?

7. Hire a facilitator

It’s always best to to engage a third-party facilitator for your strategic planning retreat. An internal team member will always have biases that impact your planning. And when the leader tries to moderate a planning session, they often unintentionally shut down their team. After all, no one wants to argue with the boss!

Your team will feel more comfortable contributing with the help of a neutral third-party facilitator. The more they open up, the more insights you will gain about how you can improve your organization and drive results.

Find a facilitator you trust – one with the right amount of experience to guide your team through this complex maze. Look for someone who inspires your team but is modest enough to step back and let you and your team take the credit. Your facilitator should also be prepared to challenge your leader and team to be their best … but not in a threatening or overpowering manner.

What you do before your strategic planning retreat has a huge impact on your results. It’s vital to get your team excited about the planning process, as this will align everyone around a shared vision and help you achieve your goals.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we will share strategies for running your planning retreat and how to follow up after the retreat to ensure your ongoing success.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *